Unforgettable Portland Area Day Trips, Part 2: The Oregon Coast (Central and Northern)

Photo by Eric Muhr on Unsplash

Getting in my Volkswagen and going for a drive is one of my favorite things to do and with so much to see within just a few hours of Portland, it can be tough to choose the best destinations sometimes. When I know that I want to go to the coast and enjoy an adventurous coastal area hike, enjoy observing Oregon marine life or just sit on the beach and chill with a book, the central or northern Oregon coast is a favorite day trip destination.

I have put together what I have found to be the best coastal spots to go on a day trip – all within just a few hours from Portland. Going from north to south, here is that list. Enjoy 🙂

Astoria, OR
Photo by Heather M. Edwards on Unsplash


(1 hour, 50 minutes drive from Portland via US-26 E to US-101 N | map)

Near the mouth of the Columbia river you will find Astoria, a beautiful coastal city with much to offer. The scenic route is via the Columbia River Highway (US-26 E) and up the coastal highway, US-101 N. It is only slightly longer than the I-5 to US-30 route (by only approximately 5 minutes), but you get to drive up the coast.

Peter Iredale Shipwreck Warrenton, OR
Photo by Vasiliki Volkova on Unsplash

For all the history buffs out there, you will be amazed by the stories that Astoria has to tell. The Peter Iredale Shipwreck at the Fort Stevens State Park is a great place to start! It’s just one of the many historical landmarks near Astoria. The famous Astoria Column should not be missed upon your arrival and from here you can venture on to the Garden of Surging Waves. For all the active people out there, the Cathedral Tree Hike is the best hike in the area. But Astoria is not just for history fanatics and hikers. They have their own Film Museum and you can even take part in The Goonies Film Location Tour! If that is not enough of a reason to visit, Kindergarten Cop with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Short Circuit and Free Willy was filmed here as well!


(1 hour, 25 minutes drive from Portland via US-26 E to US-101 N | map)

On the way to Seaside you will find a few different landmarks of Oregon, including the Camp 18 Restaurant in Elsie. Oregon. Here you can find a log cabin-style restaurant to take a load off after you exploration. The Camp 18 structure boasts the largest ridgepole in the United States, at 85 feet.

The Seaside Aquarium is a great hit with children and adults alike. It has state of the art facilities, including an impressive deep sea exhibit and all your favorites, such as seals and sea otters. To top it all off, if you are seeking a long walk on the beach then the 1.5 mile long Ocean Promenade is the perfect way to complete your day at Seaside.

Seaside is pretty much the most ‘tourist-y’ coastal town on the list with many gift shops, restaurants and amusements (such as a carousel, mini-golf and arcade) on the main strip, right near the beach. One thing you can’t miss if dairy is your friend is Zinger’s homemade ice cream! 🙂 …but it’s only open during the warmer months.

Cannon Beach

(1 hour, 25 minutes drive from Portland via US-26 E to US-101 S | map)

Photo by MJ Tangonan on Unsplash

Cannon Beach offers a range of things to do for the whole family other than your usual beach going activities. There is a reason that Cannon Beach is so popular with the locals and tourists alike. From bird watching to surfing, hiking to whale watching, the possibilities are vast. You could even choose to pick up the reigns and go horseback riding along the beach and take in the iconic Oregon coastal views.

The most iconic symbol in Cannon Beach is Haystack Rock. It rises up 235 feet and can be seen in many movies throughout the ages (including The Goonies). It is part of the vast volcanic past of the area, as one of the only remaining natural products of the age.

Ecola State Park

Photo by James Fitzgerald on Unsplash

(1 hour, 25 minutes drive from Portland via US-26 E to US-101 S | map)

Just north of downtown Cannon Beach, you will find Ecola State Park. It is fairly secluded and if you are an avid hiker, then you will certainly not want to miss this location! Aside from hikes, this area is also great for picnicking with the family too. There are glorious views if you choose to venture via the short paths over the headland. From here you can see the sandy shores of Cannon beach far below. The entrance fee for Ecola State Park is $5 a day and entirely worth it.

The Indian Beach Trail can be found within the Ecola State Park and is a hidden gem amongst the various tracks that you can take through the park itself. Close to Cannon Beach, it is a great place to picnic and you may even be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the bald eagles or grey whales which frequent the location.

From the Indian Beach Trail you can find the Clatsop Loop Hike that ends at the Hikers Camp where you can set up for the night if you so desire. It is, as per the name, a loop hike that brings you around and back to the beginning. It is a distance of 3 miles long and is of rated ‘easy’ on the difficulty scale. It can be crowded but only during summer weekends. You can see waterfalls amongst the rainforest setting along Canyon Creek. There are restrooms throughout the hike should you need them.


Hug Point

(1 hour, 30 minutes drive from Portland via US-26 E to US-101 S | map)

Hug Point Oregon
“Hug Point, Oregon Coast” by Borgendorf is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Here you will find a secluded trail that is one of the best in the area by far. Hug Point Trail is best ventured at low tide. The beaches can be a great place to bring the kids, but at high tide you have very little area to work with. There are many sights along the way, including a beautiful waterfall that lines the path to the cobblestone beaches down below. It is around half a mile long and a great trail for beginners. This means that no matter your fitness level, or whether you are bringing the little ones, it is the perfect short hike for you!

Oswald West State Park

“Smuggler’s Cove, Oswald West State Park, Oregon Coast” by Ryan Harvey is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

(1 hour, 30 minutes drive from Portland via US-26 E to US-101 S | map)

If you are looking for a beautiful, secluded sandy beach then venture to Oswald West State Park. It stretches four miles and is situated on the edge of the temperate rainforest of the area. Once you reach the beach you will be greeted by breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean. There are miles of hiking trails to choose from that you can spend hours exploring before taking a refreshing dip in the salt water.


(1 hour, 40 minutes drive from Portland via US-26 E to US-101 S | map)

Manzanita Oregon Coast
Photo by John Peters on Unsplash

Manzanita is an extremely versatile location, with arts, food and natural surroundings to explore. It’s a small town but has adorable boutiques and plenty of restaurants to enjoy. Nearby Nehalem State Park is known for kayaking, crabbing, and fishing.

Rockaway Beach

(1 hour, 45 minutes drive from Portland via US-26 E to US-101 S | map)

Twin Rocks Rockaway Beach, Oregon Coast
Photo by Masha Shubin on Unsplash

The sleepy town of Rockaway Beach is a favorite because it never seems crowded and offer easy access. You will find a playground in the main lot with a pirate ship for the kids, so it’s not only a great place to stay for a while but can be a great place to stop briefly for restless kids. At this beach you will find a stream outlet where you can enjoy some fresh water for a change, although it can be chilly. Look for pockets of warm water on the warmer days.


(1 hour, 30 minutes drive from Portland via US-26 E to OR-6 W | map)

Garibaldi, OR Piers End
“Pier’s End” by Ian Sane is licensed under CC BY 2.0

In Garibaldi, you will find Pier’s End, which is the longest pier in Oregon, stretching over 700 feet long. It can be found across Highway 101 from the historical Coast Guard Headquarters. The building at the end of the pier was the boathouse for the local Coast Guard from 1934 to the early 1960’s. It is a great place for recreational fishing, crabbing, bottom fishing, salmon fishing and clamming.


(1 hour, 20 minutes drive from Portland via US-26 E to OR-6 W | map)

Following Oregon Route 6, you can reach Tillamook from Portland in less than an hour and a half. The Tillamook Creamery (formerly the Tillamook Cheese Factory) brings in millions of visitors a year, making it one of the most famous attractions in Oregon. You can take a self-guided tour of the farmer-owned cheese factory and enjoy free samples of their cheeses. Stop at the cafe on the way out to enjoy some of their delectable treats, such as fried cheese curds and a large assortment of unique ice cream flavors.

For a less crowded cheese tasting experience in Tillamook, visit Blue Heron French Cheese Company. Not only do they have cheese tasting, but wine tasting and an assortment of other local sauces, dips and other foods to taste. They also have farm animals on-site for the kids.

Cape Meares

(1 hour, 40 minutes drive from Portland via US-26 E to OR-6 W | map)

Common Murres Cape Meares OR
Photo by NOAA on Unsplash

On a headland about 200 feet above the ocean you will find the Cape Meares Scenic Viewpoint. If you enjoy viewing native wildlife, this viewpoint shows the largest colony of nesting common murres from above. It is home to some of the largest colonies of nesting seabirds in the continent (source) as well as bald eagles and peregrine falcons which are often seen in the area.

Cape Kiwanda

 (1 hour, 50 minutes drive from Portland via US-26 E to OR-6 W to US-101 | map)

Cape Kiwanda OR
Photo by Tim Peterson on Unsplash

You can drive your car right up onto the beach near Cape Kiwanda, which can be a benefit or a deterrent, depending on your needs. For people who have a challenge walking on the beach, it offers them a chance to get into the sand without a trek. From the parking area, walk up to Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area, which is placed along a cliff and offers breathtaking views of waves crashing against bold rock formations.

Lincoln City

Lincoln City OR Lighthouse
Photo by Jonathan Auh on Unsplash

(1 hour, 45 minutes drive from Portland via OR-99W and OR-18 W | map)

Lincoln City is one of the most popular places to visit during the summer in Oregon. The OR-18 route will take you straight to Lincoln City from Portland in just under two hours. The population rises from the permanent 8,000 to over 30,000 people during these months. It is home to six historic districts, with its own culinary center and cultural center to visit. There is even a historical museum where you can venture back in time to when Lincoln City was first established in the 1920s. You will be amazed at how much this city has to offer and it may even need more than one day to soak up everything you want to see. Some of the most popular things to do in Lincoln City include whale watching, tide pooling, shell fishing, glass blowing, kite flying and visiting the Chinook Winds Casino.

Boiler Bay & Depoe Bay

(2 hours drive from Portland via OR-99W and OR-18 W and US-101 S | map)

Depoe Bay OR Whale
Photo by Dan Meyers on Unsplash

On the edge of Depoe Bay you will find one of the best whale watching spots in all of Oregon. Boilers Bay is a small viewpoint location known for the whale watching and also the abundant wildlife that inhabit it. There is an easy pull-off to Boilers Bay from the 101 and as such is easily accessible for anyone who wishes to venture this way.

Devils Punchbowl State Natural Area is just south of Depoe Bay and is the creation of two collapsed sea caves which were once close to the shore. It is best to see at high tide, when the incoming water come crashing into the punchbowl and demonstrates the raw power of the ocean. It can be found about a mile drive from the 101.


 (2 hours, 10 minute drive from Portland via I-5 S and OR-34 W and US-20 W | map OR the scenic route: 2 hours, 25 minute drive from Portland via OR-99W and OR-18 W and US-101 S | map)

Newport is a very well-known and popular tourist destination. This is in part for its abundance of activities and beautiful settings.

Oregon Coast Aquarium Newport
Photo by Felipe Galvan on Unsplash

Overlooking the Yaquina Bay in Newport you can find the impressive Oregon Coast Aquarium. It is run by a non-profit organization which aims to educate the general public about the amazing aquatic life of the Oregon Coast and more. There are indoor and outdoor activities and some extremely breathtaking exhibits which will keep you and your family entertained all day. The highlight for our family is usually walking through the shark tubes! Observing jellyfish, seals, otters, giant Japanese spider crabs and a Pacific octopus is also worth the price of entry.

Yaquina Head Lighthouse OR
Photo by Franklin Babrove on Unsplash

The Yaquina Head Lighthouse can be found quite close to the aquarium and was established in 1872. It is located on the tip of the basalt head and is a sight to behold, surrounded by colorful wildflowers especially in the spring and summer.

Also in the Newport area, you will find Hatfield Marine Science Center. HMSC serves as Oregon State University’s coastal campus. This is an educational center which has exhibits specifically on wave energy, the local fishing industry, a tidepool touch tank and other educational hands-on learning stations to interact with. Admission is free but you can choose to donate a few dollars to help them continue their amazing work.

While in Newport, tour the Rogue Brewery and visit Rogue Brewer’s on the Bay, a two-story brewpub with views of Yaquina Bay. Open since 1988, Rogue is one of the original craft breweries in Oregon and is amongst the largest 35 in the country.


No matter what kind of day trip you are looking for, the Oregon coast destinations within about 2 hours from Portland have so much to offer. Whether you like to hike, learn about the history, relax on the beach or view wildlife you and your family will be impressed by how versatile the activities are in the region.